Sarkozy aide Claude Gueant charged with forgery and fraud as questions linger over Gaddafi relationship

Magistrates discovered that an unexplained sum of €500,000 was sent from outside the country to one of Mr Guéant’s bank accounts in 2008

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The Independent Online

Claude Guéant, the former chief aide to Nicolas Sarkozy, has been formally accused of tax evasion and forgery by two judges investigating alleged financial links between the ex-President and the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

After 30 hours under arrest, Mr Guéant, 70, the minister in charge of police and security from 2011 to 2012, was placed under formal investigation at the weekend for using false documents and “conspiracy to evade taxes”.

It might seem a humiliating outcome for a man whose civil service and political career was built on an uncompromising approach to crime. His lawyer, however, hailed it as a triumph because investigating magistrates had failed to substantiate the accusations of corruption and illegal campaign financing that prompted their inquiry two years ago.

Philippe Bouchez el-Ghozi, Mr Guéant’s lawyer, said: “An investigation that was billed as earth-shattering has completely deflated… It is now all about the ownership of two paintings, whether they existed and whether they should have been declared to the tax man.”

 

Anti-corruption campaigners, who are civil parties to the case, rejected this interpretation of events. They said Mr Guéant’s arrest on Friday and the preliminary charges brought by magistrates showed that the judicial inquiry into the alleged financing by Gaddafi of the 2007 Sarkozy presidential campaign was “making progress”.

The “Gaddafi affair” is one of a dozen criminal investigations into former President Nicolas Sarkozy or into his close political allies or friends. In 2011, as the Gaddafi regime fell, several senior Libyan figures alleged that Tripoli had given millions of euros to the Sarkozy campaign between 2006 and 2007.

As part of their inquiry into these allegations two investigating magistrates discovered that, in 2008, an unexplained sum of €500,000 had been sent from outside the country to one of Mr Guéant’s bank accounts. Mr Guéant was chief of staff to President Sarkozy at the time.

He explained that the money came from the sale of two Dutch paintings to a Malaysian businessman. Further investigations by the magistrates revealed that there was no trace of Mr Guéant having ever owned paintings by the minor 17th-century Dutch artist Andries van Eertvelt. They also discovered that Van Eertvelt canvasses had never sold for more than €20,000 each.

As a result, Mr Guéant was arrested for a second time on Friday. French media said the judges suspected the sale was a cover for a campaign payment by Gaddafi or a kick-back on French-Libyan trade deals.

In the end, his lawyer said, they were forced to accept that there was no proof of any such transactions. Mr Guéant was therefore formally accused of failing to declare his ownership or sale of the paintings.

Intriguingly, however, the magistrates also brought formal accusations of tax evasion against a Saudi businessman, Khalid Ali Bugshan. Mr Guéant has been banned from contacting Mr Bugshan while the investigation continues.

The Saudi businessman’s name has already appeared in other judicial investigations of alleged kick-backs on French arms deals and illegal campaign financing going back to 1995.

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